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Major human diseases transmitted by insects


Disease Pathogen Vector Distribution Remarks
Yellow fever Yellow fever virus Aedes mosquitoes Africa and tropical America A disease of forest monkeys that can spread to people.
Dengue Dengue viruses Aedes aegypti mosquitoes (and to a lesser extent some other Aedes species) widely distributed in the tropics  
Typhus Rickettsia prowazeki (bacteria) Body Louse Pediculus humanus (Phthiraptera)    
Trench Fever Rickettsia quintana (bacteria) Body Louse Pediculus humanus (Phthiraptera)   Named after the devastating effect it had on soldiers in trenches in the First World War.
Louse-borne relapsing fever Borrelia (spirochaete bacteria) Body Louse Pediculus humanus (Phthiraptera)    
Plague Yersinia pestis


Fleas, mainly Xenopsylla (includes Rat Flea) Worldwide Mainly a disease of rodents.
Leishmaniasis Leishmania (protozoan) Sandflies (Psychodidae: Phlebotominae) Africa, Asia, Central and South America Really a disease syndrome with varying symptoms including disfigurement of the skin. About 21 Leishmania species are implicated in human infection and there are an even larger number of vector species.
Malaria Plasmodium (protozoan) Anopheles mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) Worldwide but eradicated in some regions such as Europe and USA The most important vector-borne disease.
Sleeping sickness Trypanosoma brucei (protozoan) Tsetse Glossina (Diptera: Glossinidae) African tropics and savannas (patchily distributed)  
Chagas disease Trypanosoma cruzi


Blood-sucking reduviid bugs (mainly Triatoma, Panstrongylus and Rhodnius) Central and South America  
Bancroftian filariasis Wuchereria bancrofti (filarial nematode worm) Mosquitoes: Anopheles, Culex, Aedes and Mansonia tropical Africa, tropical America, Middle East, South Asia, Far East, New Guinea Obstructs the lymphatic system, causing swellings, extreme swelling termed elephantiasis. Other forms of filariasis found in SE Asia are caused by filarial worms in the genus Brugia.
Loiasis Loa loa (nematode worm) Chrysops (Diptera: Tabanidae) tropical Africa Causes large swellings, mainly on the limbs.
Onchocerciasis Onchocerca volvulus (nematode worm) Simulium (Diptera: Simuliidae) tropical Africa and America A non-fatal disease affecting the skin and eyes (can cause blindness).


  • Gratz, N.G. 1999. Emerging and resurging vector-borne diseases. Annual Review of Entomology 44: 51-75.

  • Lounibos, L.P. 2002. Invasions by insect vectors of human disease. Annual Review of Entomology 47: 233-266.


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